India’s tech-powered COVID-19 response raises privacy issues
India’s tech-powered COVID-19 response: Indian govt makes the most of technology in its COVID-19 response amid concerns over privacy issues
As the number of Coronavirus cases continue to rise in India, the government has been waging on technology to monitor and contain the spread of the pandemic. As per reports, the tech innovators and entrepreneurs are responding to the challenges posed by COVID-19 by developing high-tech solutions powered by artificial intelligence (AI) aimed at assisting the government in their efforts to mitigate the virus transmission.
With the country getting back on its feet in the post-recovery process, companies have started mobilising their technology to track movements of their employees, check temperatures and ensure implementation of preventive measures.
However, as data-driven technologies are gaining significance among public and private entities, privacy rights advocates have raised concerns over their effectiveness and credibility. Reportedly, more than 80 technology tools have been launched by various companies to support India’s response against the global health crisis.
Millions of Indian installed the Aarogya Setu app launched by the government in April 2020 as a crucial tool for fighting the pandemic transmission. The app uses GPS and Bluetooth to track COVID-19 transmission and inform people about the risk of exposure to the virus. However, digital rights groups raised warnings over privacy concerns due to the app.
Devdutta Mukhopadhyay, a lawyer with Delhi-based digital rights organisation Internet Freedom Foundation, noted that Aarogya Setu has facing scrutiny because there is not much known about how the state apps work. Recently, the Central Information Commission also slammed the National Informatics Centre and the Information Technology ministry for denying details about who create the app in response to an RTI query.
Several tech startups collaborated with the government to develop technology to disseminate information and notifications related to Coronavirus. The Kerala government launched GoK-Kerala Direct app to send COVID-19 related updates and information through phone notifications.
But, dozens of tracing apps used by different states in the country have been facing concerns over privacy issues. Healthcare workers and lawyers have expressed concerns over lack of privacy policies in these apps. They have also pointed out the use of open-source software and ambiguous terms and conditions related to data sharing and retention, noting that these tracing apps evaluate location, travel and medical history of the users through Bluetooth and GPS on smartphones.
Meanwhile, Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has promised to formulate a robust data protection law to address the data privacy concerns of citizens. Amid these developments, the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 introduced in Parliament last year has been under the review of Joint Parliamentary Committee for detailed examination. However, surveillance activities does not come under the ambit of the bill.